I keep Adrienne Rich's "What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics" on my bedside table. I haven't finished reading it yet, although it's been there for over a year, because every time I finish a chapter there is another poetry collection she's recommended that I need to read. So I do, and that book leads me to another, and then another, and so on.

Although I've always written poetry, I didn't know I could actually like reading it until recently. I even pursued my MFA in fiction because I didn't accept that I was a poet. All I'd ever been exposed to were dead male poets, and although beautiful, none of them spoke to my soul. I should have gotten the clue when the poetry seminars stirred me more than the fiction.

I remember the first poem I read by Jane Kenyon, "Evening at a Country Inn," and her plea towards her companion in the poem to "look at the hay - the beautiful sane and solid bales of hay." How that plea seemed to say more than any story I'd ever written, how the soul lays itself bare in poetry. That is the power of these voices, the women poets I've been reading.

During these ominous political times, and the dark vision of our country that was laid out before us on January's inauguration day, it is vital to hang on to these strong voices and to not forget our own.

I've been thinking a lot about Marina Tsvetaeva, a Russian and Soviet poet, who wrote poetry while watching her country fall to pieces. She put her two daughters into an orphanage so that they would be fed (and even then one of them starved to death). Poetry was her vigil, her obsession. It existed and still exists in a beautiful and grotesque place alongside our politics and inside of our consciousness.

In her introduction to her book on poetry and politics, Rich writes "'Democracy,' 'free enterprise,' 'market economy' are the banners now floating above our economic system. Still, as a poet, I choose to sieve up old, sunken words, heave them, dripping with silt, turn them over, and bring them into the air of the present. Where every public decision has to be justified in the scales of corporate profits, poetry unsettles these apparently self-evident propositions - not through ideology, but by its very presence and ways of being, its embodiment of states of longing and desire."

For me lately it has not been fiction keeping me up reading late into the night. It's these poets who remind me and teach me how my soul belongs in this world.

Jennifer Murray has her MFA from Lesley University and lives with her daughter in St. Paul where she waits tables and works on poetry.

BOOKSHELF: Jennifer Murray recommends these books by women poets:
Dark Elderberry Branch: Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva, a reading by Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine
Valparaiso by Mary O'Malley
When My Brother Was An Aztec by Natalie Diaz
Parallax by Sinead Morrissey
Crime Against Nature by Minnie Bruce Pratt

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